A-Z interventions and conditions

Pulmonary rehabilitation

A-Z interventions and conditions
        1. Pulmonary rehabilitation

First published: 14 September 2021

The RACGP gratefully acknowledge the following contributor:

  • Zoe Michaleff, Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, Bond University

Related GP HANDI entry Pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD


Key points

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise and education program.
  • It is one of the most important things you can do to improve your lung health. It can help to improve symptoms and make everyday activities easier to do.
  • It is important to continue exercising even after completing a pulmonary rehabilitation program to maintain your fitness and lung health.

How does pulmonary rehabilitation help?

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise and education program.
  • Exercise can help your lungs and muscles to work better, which can improve your breathing and make everyday activities easier to do.
  • The education can help you to manage your lung health. You may learn things such as how to manage breathlessness, relaxation skills, goal setting and problem solving.

What happens in a pulmonary rehabilitation program?

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs may be provided in groups or in one-on-one settings. The programs are usually held in hospitals, outpatient centres, community centres, or at home with the support of telehealth.

Lung foundation - Pulmonary rehabilitation

Understanding pulmonary rehabilitation: Part 1

Understanding pulmonary rehabilitation: Part 2


  • At the start of the program, a healthcare professional (e.g. physiotherapist or exercise physiologist) will usually assess you and talk to you about the program.
  • They will use the assessments to design an exercise program for you.
  • At the end of the program, you will usually be assessed again, to measure any improvement.

Exercise training

  • The exercise sessions are usually twice a week for 6–8 weeks.
  • You usually start off slowly.
  • Exercises may include:
    • Walking, cycling on an exercise bike, or stepping up and down
    • Strengthening exercises for the legs and arms
    • Flexibility and balance exercises e.g. stretching your arms and legs, or balancing on one foot
  • You will usually be given some exercises to do 2 or 3 times a week at home.


  • The education sessions may include information on how lungs work, COPD, and using puffer (inhaler) medications. The information may also include managing breathlessness, healthy eating, and quitting smoking (if needed).

What to look out for

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are usually safe. However, you might need a letter from your doctor to say you can join the program.
  • You will usually be taught how to make sure you do the exercises safely.
  • To maintain your fitness levels and lung health, it is important to continue to exercise even after completing the program. Remember: if you don’t move it, you will lose it!
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